Above the Law [Book Review]

by Kimberly Petrosky on March 15, 2009

n271922”This thing is like an anthill.  Looks like a mound of dirt until you kick it over.”

Casey Jordan, former high-powered practitioner turned public interest lawyer (who also was the subject of a much talked about Lifetime movie), is about to discover the truth behind these words.  A last minute walk-in client to her gas station-turned-legal-aid clinic seems to be a routine deportation misunderstanding, but the more Casey hears, the less sense it makes.  The wife and child of a recently deceased ranch-hand have been scheduled for deportation, but no one can really explain why.  The only explanation officially given is that the woman’s estranged brother-in-law is a gang member, but Casey instinctively knows it’s deeper than that — the ranch hand died under suspicious circumstances, turkey hunting with Senator Chase early in the morning.  There are no witnesses, and hardly a real investigation.  The town’s coroner-cum-undertaker signed off on the death with only a perfunctory examination, and the sheriff didn’t even collect any evidence.

Digging deeper, Casey and her clinic’s private investigator, Jose O’Brien, discover suspicious circumstances, corrupt law enforcement protecting the high-powered senator and disappearing Latinos in the county’s very own Bermuda Triangle.  The plot thickens very rapidly, with Casey and Jose encountering stonewalling and threats from the sheriff, the clinic being shut down by the Environmental Protection Agency because of a backed up toilet, and Jose being framed for murder. What started out as a simple deportation case turns into a suspected murder, which, in turn, turns into something much bigger.  Casey tries to get the DA involved, only to find out that he’s unwilling to go anywhere near the whole mess.

As if her life needed to get worse (and to bring in a little comedic relief), Casey is being sued for defamation by her ex-husband:  It turns out the director and producers of the aforementioned Lifetime movie portrayed him in “less than flattering” terms.

The conclusion of the whole tale demonstrates how it is sometimes necessary to be both compromising and uncompromising at the same time, as Casey unravels the mystery and makes a deal.  And as for the senator, he gets what he deserves, but not quite in the way you might expect.

I really enjoyed this book.  There were occasions upon which I was a bit confused, but that may be due to a combination of my not having read any of the previous Tim Green books involving Casey Jordan and the fact that I tended to read this late at night when I was le tired.  It often had me on the edge of my seat, trying to figure out what could possibly happen next.  I frequently had no idea what was coming.  The interjection of humor in the form of Casey’s old friends from her previous marriage and the running references to the Lifetime movie in which Casey was played by Susan Lucci lighten up what might otherwise be an overwhelmingly dark mystery.

I also think that Tim Green has, for the most part, accurately captured the life of a public-interest lawyer.  Casey drives an old Mercedes, peeling paint and missing hubcaps and all.  The clinic employees are overworked, and the clinic is kept afloat by donations.  However, I think it only fair to point out to those of you considering a public interest career that this is also a skewed portrayal, likely done in the interest of literature.   No public interest lawyer would really be able to devote all of her time to one solitary case, no matter how huge it was.  There are still the everyday little cases that need to be taken care of — the domestic violence, the debtor cases, the custody cases, etc.  But this is a forgivable offense.  The book would probably be much less exciting and fast paced if, in between all her exciting investigations, we had to read twenty pages describing the ordinary, every day cases.

All in all, I’d give this book a solid 4.5/5 Larrys.  Great read!

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